PYONGTAEK, South Korea — South Korean authorities are investigating a report that a Korean former employee of the U.S. Army has defected to North Korea.

North Korea’s official KCNA news agency said Kim Ki-ho, 59, had worked for the U.S. Army’s 6th Ordnance Battalion as a quality assurance specialist at Camp Long, near Wonju, but defected recently to North Korea. The news agency gave no details as to when or how he reportedly defected.

It said Kim “made the bold decision to come over to the northern half of Korea … unable to put up any longer with the disgraceful South Korean society, disillusioned with it where the nation’s dignity, sovereignty and human rights are violated at the hand of the U.S.”

Army Col. MaryAnn Cummings, chief spokeswoman for U.S. Forces Korea in Seoul, said: “We can confirm that we had an employee working for USFK of the name Mr. Kim Ki-ho, who was employed from January 1984 to August 2003.”

However, said Cummings, “We cannot confirm that it’s the same individual that has been reported about, going to North Korea.”

Cummings said she was legally barred for privacy reasons from disclosing further details about Kim’s U.S. Army employment, including whether he had been involved in a conflict with his employer, had quit or been fired.

Such privacy restrictions apply to all queries about government employees, not just those about Kim, Cummings said.

She also said she had no immediate word on whether the U.S. military has sent investigators to check Kim’s last known South Korea residence to establish his whereabouts, or whether it planned to do so.

Meanwhile, a Wonju police official told Stars and Stripes on Friday that city records listed Kim at an address later found not to have been his actual residence.

A South Korean National Intelligence Service official told Stars and Stripes on Thursday the agency is working to verify the North Korean claim. The NIS has established that Kim traveled from South Korea to China, the official said, and then may have crossed from China to North Korea.

The agency now largely is focused on retracing Kim’s whereabouts and actions from when he entered China, and what might have motivated a defection, if one occurred, the official said.

In a separate development involving defections, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said Thursday 1,890 North Koreans defected to South Korea in 2004, almost 50 percent more than in 2003, the Associated Press reported.

Hwang Hae-rym contributed to this report.

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